The Conception Of Abstraction In Audio/Visual Installation: Appropriation, site specificity and reflexivity in the work of Jake Sun


There is no question that the contemporary subject navigates the world via mass-media and televisual representation. As Amelia Jones surmised, those born post-1960 are ‘conditioned on the deepest level by what we might call the representational regimes of postmodernism – cinema, television, and the seemingly endless stream of images, sounds , textures, and smells’ (2006 p. 130). While steadfast resistance and vicious retaliations within the art sphere have manifested since the Italian Futurist movement in dawn of the twentieth century (Goldberg 1988), there is an increasing emphasis on the positive function of mass-media and the technologies used to project it as a fertile ground for artistic exploration, parallel to the breakdown of high and low culture. One & Other, an audio-visual installation exhibition by Jake Sun, explores the possibilities of abstraction in non-durational visual experience. Comprised of numerous projections and methods of presentation, this exhibition raises a variety of issues concerning cross-cultural appropriation and mediatised experience.  Significantly, Sun’s work operates as a seamless recontextualisation of the contemporary condition of Western culture by reconfiguring the technological and cultural elements of urban living into abstract renderings of colour, light and sound.

The process of adapting installation to non-conventional exhibition spaces, while fundamentally considered problematic, enables infinite possibilities for conceptual transformation. One & Other, rather than an exhibition of video works, operates as an artwork in itself – a reconfiguration of different elements of Sun’s artistic practice with its own conceptual uniqueness, imposed by and contained within a domestic space. The work interacts with the space through responding to the architectural suggestions of internal, external, shared and private spaces, subtly addressing the social implications of the domestic environment.  While the videos have their own audio tracks, this exhibition also features a live pianist – the merging of live and pre-recorded actions cumulating into one multi-disciplinary performance.

Discussing abstract painter Tomma Abts, Laura Hoptman describes the process of creating abstraction, ‘To create rather than represent’ (2000 p. 14). This could be said to be reversed in the case of Sun’s work. Rather than creating abstraction, Sun abstracts representation – he takes images and sounds from urban experience and renders them virtually indistinguishable, creating an experience of abstraction derived from the medias and cultural influences that the contemporary subject is saturated in, rather than creating something without visual reference or relevance to his everyday experience. The merging of broad sociocultural dialogues within Sun’s audio/visual installations may not be overt, but it is this subtle relationship with media that defines his practice. One & Other is in no way a profound criticism of mass-media, nor is it a celebration. Rather, Sun’s work is a reflexive, yet unobtrusive exploration of the possibilities and conventions of contemporary sensory experience.

The inevitable relationship with the medium of film is acknowledged by Sun most significantly through a use of duality. Numerous works in One & Other are presented replicated side by side, playing slightly off sync. Anne Wagner has written that ‘video art aims to summon you into the present moment, as an audience . . . and sometimes . . . to make you all-too-conscious of that fact’ (2000 p. 69). The acknowledgment of contrivance – of the processes, repetition and reproducibility of the images – operates as a reminder of the technology behind the experience, making the audience conscious of their role as a viewer.

Hoptoman writes of abstract art that the artist is ‘positioned to communicate the most profound . . . ideas in language that is nonspecific and timeless’ (2008 p. 14). While larger ideological debates exist on this topic, in the case of Sun’s audio/visual installations, the presiding influence on the audience’s interaction and interpretation of the visual experience he has created, is through the technology and methods of presentation utilised. While the subtle forms within his work are nonintrusive, non-suggestive projections exploring concepts of the void, the means by which we interpret such imagery is inevitably influenced by our familiarity with the medium. This interaction is best described through reference to photography theory. As Allan Sekula wrote on photography, if ‘we accept the fundamental premise that informat­ion is the outcome of a culturally determined relationship then we can no longer ascribe an intrinsic or universal meaning to the photographic image’ (1995 p. 84). Sekula is claiming that the photographic image (like the filmic image) is not a universally understood language – visual literacy is learned. In the same light, our interactions with mediatised imagery are determined by our prior interactions with the medium of video, via televisual representations or (for those with a knowledge of the subject) exposures to video art. Thus, the abstraction within Sun’s work is not truly timeless, or nonspecific – different interpretations, engagements and pre-conceptions will accompany every viewer. In no way does this inevitable cultural influence over interpretation hinder the impact of Sun’s work. As Sekula said of the photographic image, ‘any meaningful encounter . . . must necessarily occur at the level of connotation’ (1995, p. 87).

Sun’s videos are open-ended, non-durational visual experiences, far removed from mainstream filmic codes and the standards of conventionally prescribed visual experience within Western Culture.  Yet, as previously discussed, their relationship with the technology used to project them has an inevitable impact and relevance to its interpretation. This utilisation of technology is pertinent in a late capitalist society. As Jones states, ‘Cinema and televisuality are the means by which we navigate the world. They give us body. They give us a story. They give us ‘life’ (p. 131). We experience our world through media and technology, by using the same technology through which we experience our mediatised society, Sun is providing a rare, reflective televisual experience through a visual language we understand. Sun’s work alludes to the void, while simultaneously embracing the material realities of the technology and process of image making.

By Tara Heffernan

For the exhibition ‘One & Other’ by Jake Sun. Courtesy of Inhouse Ari




Goldberg, R 1988, Performance art: From futurism to present (Third Edition), Thames and Hudson, New York.

Hoptman, L 2008, “Art for an Anxious Time”, in L Hoptman, B Hainley & J Verwoert, Tomma Abts,  Tomma Abts, Phaidon Press, London, pp. 10-16.

Jones, A 2006, Self/image: technology, representation and the contemporary subject, Routledge, New York.

Sekula, A 1995, “On the invention of Photographic Meaning”, in V Burgin (ed), Thinking Photography, Macmillan Press Ltd, London, pp. 84 –  110.

Wagner, A 2000, Performance, Video, and the. Rhetoric of Presence’, October, vol. 91 pp 59 – 80.